Few quick-service restaurant (QSR) players have more recognizable names and media presences than Wahlburgers. The chain was the subject of an A&E reality show of the same name that covered how actors and musicians Mark and Donnie Wahlberg and Chef Paul Wahlberg launched and operated the restaurant. The chain recently made headlines when it entered the mobile order-ahead scene with WahlClub, its digital app and rewards program. The app enables customers to skip lines, score free items and access exclusive content from the family that gave the chain its name.
“What we’ve learned from talking to our guests is that people feel like they can relate to that type of celebrity,” said Dan Wheeler, Wahlburgers’ senior vice president of marketing and innovation.
PYMNTS recently spoke to Wheeler about how the chain leveraged that celebrity status when developing its mobile app and how it took lessons from other players in the field when meeting the industry’s specific security challenges.
Exploring Wahlclub’s Entourage Of Features
Just as Wahlburgers distinguishes itself from the crowded QSR burger scene with its celebrity pedigree, so, too, does its app.
“We’ve got the traditional rewards structure and mobile ordering capabilities that you'd find in most apps,” Wheeler said. “But we also provide some exclusive content, like conversations with the brothers and recipes from Chef Paul. We’re working on chat capabilities too, but we haven’t launched that part of it yet.”
Other Wahlberg-centric content is in development, including welcome and birthday messages from Paul, as well as an exclusive dialogue with the brothers as a reward for VIPs. The app’s development was largely spearheaded by the chain’s digital team, but the Wahlbergs provided high-level strategic insights throughout the progress.
“We took a bit of a crawl, walk, run approach in that we started with [digital] ordering that was only available only on your desktop,” he said. “Some would call that a soft launch, just to understand a little bit more about the impact it could have at the restaurant level.”
The company briefly considered a surprise-and-delight structure for its rewards program, but ended up instituting a simple system where every dollar spent earns customers a single point, which can be redeemed for food or Wahlburgers merchandise. Seventy-five points earns customers a free side of tater tots, fries or onion rings, for example, while 500 points can be redeemed for a T-shirt or hat.
“I've seen a lot of loyalty programs where [restaurants] are so concerned about the discounts that they were providing to guests that they actually ended up watering down those offers and now they no longer have a compelling value proposition,” Wheeler said. “So, we went in the other direction. Let's make sure we give them what they want.”
How The App Hangs Tough On Fraud
The app’s launch opened up new revenue streams for Wahlburgers, but it also paved a new avenue of attack from fraudsters. These threats are well known in the mobile ordering industry as they carve thick slices off QSRs’ bottom lines and can irrevocably damage customers’ relationships with restaurants.
“Any strong relationship you have in your life is based on trust, and … consumer-to-brand relationships are very much [the] same,” Wheeler said. “So, as a customer, I'm trusting you with my information because I value our relationship, and in return I’m going to expect that you keep that information safe. And the last thing we want to do is to lose that confidence and that trust from our consumers.”
At the center of Wahlburgers’ fraud detection protocols is a machine learning (ML) system that algorithmically identifies and flags abnormal transactions. Many of these are easy to spot, with giveaways such as excessive voided or small-value transactions. The system passes on flagged transactions to a human analyst team for further examination.
“The key is to stay ahead of the hackers, because you know that they’ve already moved on from the things that are easy to flag,” Wheeler noted. “You have to think like a hacker in order to minimize the risk. And we've got folks that are [doing] exactly that.
A key priority for Wahlburgers’ security protocols, in addition to its ironclad protective capabilities, is customer seamlessness. Every security measure causes a degree of user inconvenience, and customers will gravitate toward competitors if a given app becomes too frustrating. Maintaining this delicate balance between security and convenience is a constant challenge, but Wahlburgers believes it has attained it via its ML system and two-factor authentication (2FA).
“We’ve followed the road that’s been paved by some of the really smart folks that have done this work already, like Dunkin’ and Domino’s and Chili’s, which do a fantastic job of striking that balance,” Wheeler said. “But by the same token, it’s going to be an ever-evolving thing. We’re always going to be looking for ways that we can make the experience that much more seamless, and we’re constantly going to be looking for ways to make sure that we’re keeping their information secure.”
Walking in the footsteps of those who have come before is an intuitive approach to securing customer data, and as Wahlburgers’ app matures, other QSRs may look to it as a blueprint when developing services of their own.